At the end of the summer holidays, it's understandable that most kids' sleep is a bit out of whack.
There's been weeks of no morning routine, evenings where light doesn't leave the sky until nearly 9pm and more late nights catching up with friends or watching movies.
"They've come from this period where they've been allowed to stay up longer, sleep in more, so just be aware that it might take them a few weeks to transition back to that school routine," he said.
"But hopefully, they will also be a little bit tired because of going back to school and if you build in some activity after school, then that's also going to help with their sleep."
He says sleep is the linchpin to everything else that kids need to thrive at school, helping them to concentrate and learn better, be able to form good social relationships, and have enough energy to meet the physical activity requirements to stay healthy.
But, as any parents who has watched an obviously tired child fight bedtime knows - getting kids to sleep on time is easier said than done.
So here's Prof Okely's tips to get things clicking back into place when Term 1 begins:
What should an ideal day look like for primary school kids?
"It's really important that there's a consistent bed and wake time and that children get between nine and 11 hours sleep a night," he said.
"That's got to be something that's non-negotiable because if they don't get enough sleep or their sleep is a poor quality, then that has a spillover effect on all other areas.
"It affects whether they're able to concentrate at school, whether they feel able to interact from a social perspective and whether they're able to do the work and keep their focus, and then on their own physical health."
To start with, Prof Okely advises avoiding screens as much as possible, but always in the two hours before bed.
"The light that comes from screen based devices can interrupt the quality of the sleep," he said.
"If you can get them to bed on time and they haven't had any screens, then there's a good chance that they'll get a good night's sleep and they'll wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead."
Once kids are awake, Prof Okely says it's important they use up all their energy, so that the cycle can begin again.
"I know that this isn't possible for all parents, but you should be trying to look for ways in which you can incorporate physical activity into their daily schedules," he said.
"Think about how you get to and from school - so is it possible for the child to walk, cycle or ride a scooter to the school, or you might be able to park a little bit further away so there's some walking there.
"Generally anything up to 800 metres is considered a walkable distance for children."
This not only has health and environmental benefits, but also gives parents a chance to chat with their children.
"Particularly on the way home from school, that's often where they might just want to download everything that's happened in the day," he said.
After school is considered a "critical window" for children's activity, and should ideally be spent outdoors, he said.
"You could go for a walk with the dog, kick a ball around, go to the beach - basically anything that's outside will generally result in more activity compared with if the child's inside," he said.
"We really want to try and quarantine that period from after school until about five or six o'clock and try to incorporate as much outdoor time and physical activity as possible."
Screen time should be limited in this period, Prof Okely said, but if it has to happen, you could consider "higher quality screen time" where you watch something together or interact in some way.
Then there should be plenty of time to wind down, with reading or just resting quietly before bed.
"It's ok for them to go to bed and spend some time awake, whether that might be reading a book or whether it might just be doing nothing before they go off to sleep," Prof Okely said.
"Often we think we have to have our kids stimulated all the time, and sometimes we over schedule or structure their day - so I think it's perfectly fine for them to have this sort of downtime.
"If it takes a little time for them to fall off the sleep, then that's perfectly fine."
On January 31, UOW's Luminaries webinar series will return for 2024 with the first session focussing on helping children transition back to school after the holidays. A panel of early childhood experts and psychologists will share tips about play, screen time, movement, mental health and learning for children aged 5-13.
Professor Tony Okely's five back to school priorities
- Get enough sleep.
- No screens before bedtime.
- Keep screens out of bedrooms.
- Have an active commute to and from school
- Spend time outdoors after school.